Lawyers: Cops Beat Black Man Like a 'Human Piñata'

Attorneys for family of late Tyre Nichols, 29, are comparing his beating to Rodney King incident
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 24, 2023 9:01 AM CST
Lawyers: Cops Beat Black Man Like a 'Human Piñata'
Rodney Wells, right, stepfather of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by Memphis police officers, is comforted by Bishop Henry Williamson after a news conference in Memphis, Tennessee, on Monday.   (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Memphis police officers beat motorist Tyre Nichols for three minutes, treating him like "a human piñata" in a "savage" encounter reminiscent of the infamous 1991 police beating of Los Angeles motorist Rodney King, attorneys for the family said Monday. Attorney Ben Crump said police video viewed by the family on Monday showed that Nichols was shocked, pepper-sprayed, and restrained after the 29-year-old FedEx worker and father was pulled over on Jan. 7, minutes from his home while returning from a suburban park where he'd taken photos of the sunset. Crump said the video shows the encounter was "violent" and "troublesome on every level," while fellow attorney Antonio Romanucci called it "savage" and out of proportion to the alleged offense.

Crump said Nichols' family agreed to investigators' request to wait a week or two before making the video public to "make sure to give this family what they want most, and that is justice." Shelby County District Attorney Steve Mulroy said in a statement Monday that investigators don't want to risk compromising the investigation. Nichols—described by family as a "good kid" who loved skateboarding, photography, and his 4-year-old son—was arrested after officers stopped him for reckless driving. Police said in a statement the day after the encounter that "a confrontation occurred" as officers approached the vehicle and Nichols ran; they said officers caught up to him and that "another confrontation occurred" while they were taking him into custody. Police said Nichols complained of shortness of breath and was taken to a hospital, where he died three days later.

Relatives have accused the police officers—identified as Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr., and Justin Smith—of beating Nichols and causing him to have a heart attack and kidney failure. Authorities have only said that Nichols experienced a medical emergency. The US Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation, and the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into whether excessive force was used. Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn "CJ" Davis announced Friday that the five officers were fired after a police investigation determined they used excessive force or failed to intervene and render aid. All five officers are Black, though Crump said that was irrelevant, and that Black and brown motorists often are treated differently than whites regardless of the officers' race, and that the pain of Nichols' death "is just the same."

Nichols' stepfather, Rodney Wells, who said the family wants the officers charged with first-degree murder, told reporters that his stepson had good reason to run from the officers. "Our son ran because he was scared for his life," Wells said. "And when you see the video, you'll see why he was scared for his life." Attorneys said Nichols can be heard on the video crying out for his mother, RowVaughn Wells. The city has been on edge about the release of the police footage because of the possibility of unrest. Nichols' stepfather asked that if there are protests, they remain peaceful, saying violence "is not what Tyre wanted and won't bring him back."

(Read more police brutality stories.)

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